Most of the time, when livestock operations purchase sacks of feed for their animals, they’re not thinking about the possibility to turn the leftover packaging into something functionally artistic.
But Gretchen Kyle saw the potential to turn those cast-off bags — often adorned with colorful pictures of pigs, chickens and horses — into items that could help raise money for horse rescue groups.
“I’m not a sewer,” Kyle admitted, “but I thought I can work on this.”
Despite a lack of sewing prowess, the Pleasanton woman launched an effort to repurpose the donated feed bags she collected from Bay Area farms and ranches and transform them into boutiquey shopping bags to sell. She figured the bags were designed to hold 50 pounds of feed so they could certainly handle a trip to the grocery store.
“And then on my own I went around and would sell them when I could,” Kyle said.
She dubbed the charity Big Bay Ray after her beloved rescue horse Ray Ray, and enlisted others to sew the bags for her. The first charity to benefit from the bag sales was a horse rescue group called Horses Healing Hearts.
One year after launching the effort in 2015, Ray Ray died. He was a thoroughbred that had been put out to pasture and left uncared for. Kyle’s daughter rescued Ray Ray and he became a beloved member of the family.
“We just loved him,” Kyle said. “And we just kept loving him.”
After his death, the charity’s strategy for raising money by selling unique bags remained the same, but the inspiration behind the campaign shifted toward honoring Ray Ray.
“We wanted his memory to go on and help other horses get rescued like he did,” Kyle said.
At the start of every year since launching the charity, Kyle chooses a horse rescue group to receive all the proceeds of the bag sales, which usually totals a few thousand dollars. For 2019, Kyle chose the Walnut Creek group Angels for Minis, which rescues miniature horses and finds them new homes.
Since launching six years ago, the organization has rescued 527 miniature horses and donkeys from situations of neglect, abuse and abandonment. Founder Mary Stewart said Kyle’s donations will go a long way toward furthering the group’s reach.
“Gretchen is our angel. We may be the angel to them,” Stewart said gesturing to a pen full of tiny horses, “but she’s an angel to us.”
The farm which sits in a semi-rural neighborhood in Walnut Creek is something of a fantasy land where hip-high horses gallop laps around the facilities as volunteers brush and care for them. It’s impossible to be in a bad mood around the horses, the volunteers noted.
“It’s the most wonderful, rewarding thing not just to watch the horses,” said volunteer Laurie Bellet, “but the people that they touch.”
For 2020, Kyle said she plans to use the proceeds of her bag sales to help rescue groups impacted by October’s devastating Kincade Fire which burned nearly 80 thousand acres, destroying 374 buildings and wreaking havoc on the area’s livestock.
For Kyle, the colorful re-sewn bags seemed like the perfectly crafted idea — taking an object that would’ve ended up in the landfill, turning it into something beautiful, helping worthy organizations while honoring Ray Ray.
“It’s a way we won’t forget him and we don’t want anyone else to forget him,” Kyle said. “He’s doing something good, paying it forward.”